The Southern Rhodesian experiment with the alternative vote (AV) is not well known among electoral specialists. Yet this was the origin of the better known claim that such a preferential voting system might ameliorate ethnic tensions in deeply divided societies. AV was one among several institutional innovations deployed by a reformist white settler government in Southern Rhodesia in response to the emergence of the African nationalist movement. Despite its usage with a highly restrictive franchise, the system delivered a preference transfer-dependent victory for a centrist government that aimed to accommodate African political aspirations in 1958. Yet that outcome was not repeated in 1962 or 1965, when Ian Smith's Rhodesia Front instead obtained office, declared independence from the United Kingdom and - once freed of restraints from London - dismantled electoral devices aimed at encouraging inter-communal vote transfers. This article examines the debates about Southern Rhodesian electoral reform in the late 1950s and early 1960s, explores the working of accommodation-oriented devices at the elections of 1958, 1962 and 1965, and contests whether viable political settlements can be assembled in such contexts simply by institutional reform aimed at encouraging 'moderation'.